Halfway through “Still Waters,” a song where Hadreas’ expresses feelings of hopelessness over his desire for a more gay-tolerant society, the performance’s visceral effects took a greater toll when I noticed how Hadreas’ introverted, glossy-eyed demeanor was persistently constant. More than half of his songs stem from an autobiographical experience and he sang each individual one as if he was forcibly reliving them. This surfaced an even more interesting revelation for me, regardless of stage jitters or the nakedness of missing reverb, I believe any apprehension Mike Handreas has is completely appropriate. He’s had a rough life and by the way he sings his music, he’s confronting an intolerant and hostile world, one that happens to be very real and magnified in the current media. He doesn’t do it for the sake of being an incidental, underdog activist. He does it because it’s absolutely necessary in order to express himself as an honest musician. Perfume Genius’ immaculate live orchestration left me beside myself. The whole crowd seemed beside themselves. The audience’s reverence produced a rare silence most stereotypically staunch librarians can only dream of.
Nearing the end of the set, the female synth player from Parenthetical Girls joined the stage to modestly provide backing vocals on a couple of songs, resulting with “Learning,” a hit song from Perfume Genius’ first album deemed near-perfect by many critics, sounding almost too perfect. Ending the show with an encore, Hadreas performed “Katie,” an unreleased track that seemed to further sweeten the deal of any impulsive fans that paid the $12 to see the show that day.
Admittedly, I did leave the show that night in a different headspace than when I first arrived. Perfume Genius’s set (and overall compositions) is a narrative of tragic realities offering very little reprieve. Yes, drugs will never come close to achieving it and (as made-for-TV cinema has taught us) usually only worsen it. Mike Hadreas knows his enemies thoroughly and fears them tremendously, but still doesn’t let it stop him from what he does. Happy ending in sight or not, I guess you have to find a way to press on, no matter how despairing the odds may seem.